Feline infectious peritonitis, called FIP, is a viral disease in cats. It’s caused by the feline coronavirus and is fatal in most cases. The bad news is that there's no cure and no effective preventive vaccine. The good news is that FIP is not very common.
FIP can manifest as a wet or dry form. The wet, more common, form causes fluids to accumulate in the cat’s abdomen or chest. Fluid accumulation in the belly can cause a cat to look potbellied, and fluid in the chest causes labored breathing. The wet form of FIP progresses faster than the dry form. Most cats with the wet form die within two months of exhibiting signs of the disease. The dry form progresses more slowly, so cats can survive longer with the dry type of FIP.
Cats who have FIP usually show symptoms within a few weeks or months after being infected. Symptoms of FIP are also common to many illnesses: loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, rough coat and fever. Some cats sneeze, have watery eyes and nasal discharge. Others have diarrhea. FIP causes cats to become immunocompromised, so they are also susceptible to getting other infections. Cats with weak immune systems -- such as kittens, old cats and cats with the feline leukemia virus -- are most susceptible.
FIP is most common in some catteries. It’s also more common in shelters or homes with large cat populations. It’s not highly contagious, based on clinical observations and lab studies, according to veterinarian Niels C. Pedersen. But it can be spread through cat-to-cat contact and through cat feces. FIP is linked with cat breeding, especially inbreeding because a genetic susceptibility exists. Breeders who inbreed cats with affected bloodlines contribute to spreading FIP.
If your cat shows any symptoms, take him to your veterinarian. If he does have FIP, your job is to make him as comfortable as possible. Provide good nutrition, hydration and a stress-free environment. Some treatments, such as corticosteroids, antibiotics and cytotoxic drugs, can lead to a remission.
If you have multiple cats, make sure you clean the litter boxes daily, disinfect the boxes every week or two, and keep them away from eating and drinking areas. Take good care of your cats; male sure they eat a nutritious diet, are up on their vaccinations and aren’t living in an overcrowded situation.
- Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images